Friday, May 18, 2012

Managing Your Greens

"Head Harbour Shadows" 9x12, oil - available
One way of managing greens is to avoid them!  Although there was a great deal of green in this scene
of the Head Harbour Light house, I chose to minimize their coverage.
The vigorous, vegetive greens of summertime overwhelm the landscape - and often the painting student, too.  I'm not talking about fast-moving kudzu that can swallow up a whole town overnight, but about greens that are so dominant that they swallow up all other color.  In much of the eastern U.S. and Canada, it's hard to see anything but green in summer.

Students often cower and retreat before the onslaught, uttering one of two statements.  Either "there's too much green out there" or "I just can't find the right green."

Even as an experienced outdoor painter, I have to admit that I, too, sometimes wish for something other than green.  But if you want to paint outdoors in the summertime, you may have no alternative than to engage the enemy.

First, let's look at the problem of too much green.  Green is supposed to be a restful color - that's why hospital corridors are often painted that color - but in the landscape, too much can be claustrophobic.  One trick painters use to mitigate green is to tone the canvas red.  The theory is that little bits of red will pop through the overpainting and make for a more vibrant finished piece.  I don't find this very helpful, though; green strokes over red vibrate like bad op art and give me a headache.  Instead, I like to use a near-complement.  If the green is, say, a pure secondary green, I prefer to tone with red-violet or red-orange.  The vibration is a lot less but still makes for an exciting painting.

Now, let's look at not being able to mix (or, in pastel, find) the right green.  The "right green" that you see in the landscape isn't necessarily the "right green" you want in your painting.  Don't try the trick of mixing up a batch of green with your knife and then holding up a sample against what you see in the field; that mixture will look different - and wrong - once you apply it to your canvas and it's in the context of all your other slightly-off mixtures.  Instead, consider the mood you are trying to create, and then get the colors in your painting to work well together.  Also, you may consider using the concept of simultaneous contrast to get the green you want.  Green surrounded by red will seem more intense; surrounded by blue, it will seem tinged with orange and warmer.

I'm ready to confront greens this summer.  Are you?


Marion BE said...

Sometimes the "right green" isn't a green at all!

Jo Castillo said...

Good points, Michael. Thanks. I found in the mountains with pines it is especially difficult, but I'm working on it. :)

CCAdamec said...

Thank you for taking on this lesson in color. Having moved from the southwest to Florida, I am green "challenged." Thanks for your guidance.

Rene Milone said...

Hello Michael,

That is right. Here, I'm looking for another color than green during the summer.
By the way, summer is so short !
I like your post about green.

Thank you.


Michael Chesley Johnson said...


Elizjeffery said...

I have avoided painting landscapes in summer due to the problem of too many greens. This year I have started an art project - a series of paintings that are from my yard (6 acres) and the view from the yard. There is a lot of green. I will try out your suggestions.

Thank you


Oliver said...

I'm ready, thank you for your post.

Daniela said...

With our summer in Australia being nearly all rainy days this year, now winter is about to kick in the sunny days are here and everything is green, and I did exactly what you said, ( are you a mind reader?) start with bright red, and try to match the greens, with bits of red sticking out from the green. Well, it suffices to say I like your painting better.

Pierceclarkart said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, Michael. I love the multiplicity of greens in Ohio, but do tire of I will take your challenge. I will be thinking "mood" and "what other colors" are in those greens!! Love the thought of a near complement. Any other thoughts on greens you have are so welcome!

Rustyjonesart said...

You are so good at verbalizing the things I have in my head but can't express. The "near-compliment" and "simultaneous contrast" concepts are things I've done intuitively but never been able to put them into to words. That's why you are such a good teacher...and painter.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, everyone. And thank you, Rusty! Hope to see you again on the road sometime...